Where do ports stand on the road to climate-neutral cargo handling? The study entitled: ‘Alternative drives for port handling equipment’ (Alternative Antriebe für Hafenumschlaggeräte (AAHa)), which was carried out by Ramboll and commissioned by NOW, takes stock of port handling equipment with alternative drives and provides an overview of their emissions-saving potential.

The first interim results of the study were presented today at the e4ports symposium in Hamburg. 

Cargo handling is among the most energy intensive activities at ports. Large equipment is used that can lift and transport heavy loads, like for example, straddle carriers, reach stackers and tractor units. They cause high levels of COemissions in regular diesel operation – around 180,000 to 200,000 t CO2 in 2021, according to the study’s estimations. Ports have huge potential therefore, to save emissions in cargo handling through switching over to alternative drives.

One of the challenges here is that very little market-ready port handling equipment with alternative drives actually exists. In addition, equipment with alternative drives must be able to compete with the performance of conventional diesel equipment in order to maintain the competitiveness of the terminals.

According to the AAHa study, inland waterway ports have on average, a younger age structure of handling equipment compared to seaports. There is also a slightly more widespread electrification of equipment – overall the range of port vehicles with alternative drives on the market is mainly fully electric solutions with batteries across all types. However, there is a deficit of effective charging strategies and more powerful batteries, so that models are not yet available on the market in all areas of application and for all performance models. There are already research projects however, like the ‘ZETT’ project supported by BMDV, in which a powerful and modular accumulator system is being developed that will be suitable for use in different types of equipment.

The use of alternative fuels in the corresponding drive concepts is also being tested in different projects. One approach being examined by several manufacturers is the use of hydrogen-powered fuel cell units. In both the Hamburg and Rotterdam ports there are plans to test relevant terminal tractor units. Furthermore, there are additional projects, for example on using ammonia, that still are at a low level of technological maturity and are still in the testing phase.

The AAHa study has the objective of providing ports with an overview of which technologies are potentially available for the emission-free operation of equipment for handling goods. It shows in detail which preconditions or advantages and disadvantages are involved with the individual combination of equipment and technology. Furthermore, support measures for the market introduction of alternative drives for cargo handling in ports will be outlined. The study is to be completed by October 2022.

The AAHa study was commissioned by NOW GmbH in the framework of the e4ports port network. Funding comes from both the National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology as well as the Electric Mobility Funding Guideline of the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport. Both funding guidelines are coordinated by NOW GmbH and implemented by Project Management Jülich (PtJ).